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Giving Thanks for a New Home

19 Nov

newhome

Week Six

It was evident within days of the firestorm that destroyed our community that living in Santa Rosa was no longer an option.  The issue of affordable housing had already been a factor in the region, and with multiple disasters hitting the U.S. in September and October, a sudden shortage of new construction materials would mean higher prices and longer waits.  Compound that problem with the necessity of City and County reorganizing and rethinking how best to rebuild, and now you’re talking years before we can return to Santa Rosa.  Our decisions had to be made immediately and would impact the rest of our lives.  For me and my husband, it made sense to return to SoCal.

We are fortunate in that I can work anywhere via internet and my husband can find work in any major city.  At first we considered San Diego because my husband’s son lives there and we thoroughly enjoyed our vacation in that sunny, breezy, beach city.  The other idea was to invest in a condo near California State University in Long Beach because my son is transferring there in 2018, and since I promised to help him through college, this was the most practical location.  It was with some trepidation, however, that on October 23rd we signed a contract with our future and opened a 30-day escrow period; tomorrow we sign loan documents to seal the deal, and on Wednesday we will have the keys.

This year on the fourth Thursday of November, we will begin moving into the top/front unit in the building shown above–the one with the beautiful arched window over the balcony.  Donations from co-workers, friends and family combined with a partial insurance payout buffered most of the loss, and pulling a chunk out of retirement savings made our Thanksgiving home possible.

Our joy is mixed with sorrow, however, while my husband’s Mom remains in dire straits.  Her insurance policy did not cover the full cost to move the mobile home, she still owes $19,000 to the bank, and reports of looting in our neighborhood have kept her on edge.  She has been very sick for two weeks, and has been staying in hotels or with friends for six weeks.  We hope she can sell her home soon and start over in a city near us that has affordable homes for retirees.

JEMHP-SaharaStIt has been a daunting post-traumatic period, cushioned by many acts of kindness and friendship.  Throughout this epic loss, the blessings of living in a civilized country have kept us from sinking into poverty and despair.  The firestorm would have incinerated the entire region were it not for thousands of brave people and the advantages of technology pushing back the flames.  We are most thankful that my husband awoke when he did, that our lives were spared, and that we did not lose everything.  ♥

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Image courtesy of LivePuntaMita.com

 

 

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Harsh Reality

9 Nov

One Month After The Santa Rosa Firestorm

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It’s called a disaster for a reason.  The situation is a massive disruption of normalcy!  And now, a month after our frantic 3am evacuation, my family has arrived at the harsh reality of multiple levels of red tape and deep uncertainty.

Our homes are among those still standing in a mobile home park that is otherwise utterly destroyed.

The insurance says our homes can be repaired, and they are paying for the cost of repairs, however, even after repairs, we cannot live in them.  Indefinitely.  The future of the park is yet to be determined, as is the case with most of the neighborhoods destroyed–exactly what to rebuild there is in question.  Santa Rosa needed more affordable housing before the fires.  Now it needs much more!

The park owner has not figured out next steps or a timeline.

Meanwhile, our homes are exposed to further damage by looters and homeless people seeking shelter.

In my mother-in-law’s case, her home is almost new and she owes the bank $19k, and the bank has told her she is not allowed to move it.  She also cannot sell it, since no one can live in it (there are no utilities and it will likely take months to rebuild all of the infrastructure in the park).  So, the insurance will only pay for repair, she can’t live there, can’t sell it, has paid $57k for this home and still owes $19k, and she has to figure out where to live until all of this red tape is sliced!  My stomach is in knots about it and her anxiety level is sky high.

Donate funds to assist Inger Simonsen

So this has been a month long roller coaster, or rather, it’s been more like a House of Horrors–with monstrous ordeals suddenly shrieking at us from hidden places.  Words like “asbestos contamination” and “condemned” and “ineligible for assistance” changed our course daily.  One week to the next, patiently waiting, and no one able to provide answers.  Rumors and speculation.  Guesswork.  Suspended indefinitely between hope and fear.

At this point, our only hope is that someday a settlement will be reached with PG&E to compensate the losses.  There is evidence that their faulty equipment and/or negligence caused the Tubbs Fire that destroyed 4,658 homes in Santa Rosa.

For now, we are stuck in limbo.  The fence around the mobile home park was put up by the City and is being taken down at the end of the week.  There is no security onsite.  We have retrieved valuables from inside, and will lock them up, but that’s as good as it gets.  We can only hope this situation is resolved sooner rather than later.

We have talked with City Council, the Mayor, the Press Democrat, FEMA, Red Cross, United Way, and a couple of attorneys.  And we are still stuck in limbo.

This is what it means to be caught in a sudden natural disaster of such magnitude that an entire region is disrupted.

Here’s a video shot by firefighters for perspective.

Lost Disneyland

30 Oct

Week Three

After the Apollo 13 crew landed safely following a near disaster, astronaut Jim Lovell wrote about it in a book titled Lost Moon.  That was his experience…he lost the moon.  As much as I try to power through, focus on the silver linings, and deeply appreciate the generosity and compassion of everyone whose donations are helping my family recover from the Santa Rosa firestorm, sadness has had a grip on this week because October 23-29 was supposed to be a special week with my daughter and grandkids.

We had planned our vacation together for months.  We were going to do a lot of fun stuff.  All week long we felt the pain of this loss.  So please forgive me, though I want to focus on the positives, and make everyone feel good about how they have helped my family, week three hangs low under two words: Lost Disneyland.  This lost week of joy with my kids is beyond measure.

On the bright side, we found a condo that we like, made an offer on it, and it was accepted.  We are now in escrow and hope to have keys to a place where we can physically start the process of rebuilding our lives.

My husband, Oliver, has been out of work for three weeks.  He is driving to Santa Rosa tomorrow with his mom, Inger, to meet with FEMA reps and insurance adjusters.  aerial-calif-fire4-rd-ml-171012_4x3_992We still do not have access to what remains of our property.  JEMHP is unsafe.  Pacific Gas & Electric has been tearing up the streets to repair and secure underground lines, and they won’t let anyone in until they make it safe.  So for those of us lucky to have homes still standing, each day brings us one step closer to the salvage situation.  Hopefully, Oliver will be allowed in next week, and can bring clothes and important documents.  [Edit Sunday evening: A representative of Evans Management called and informed us that residents of JEMHP will be allowed in November 1-5.]

On the bright side, we are starting to think about moving into the condo on Thanksgiving weekend (if escrow closes in 30 days, as we are all trying to make happen).  In a few weeks, we will have keys to four walls and a roof, and will begin to make it our home.  It’s a good feeling.  And I would like to leave you with that good feeling.

We are looking forward to finding furniture pieces that have some character.  Starting to browse pictures online of what local stores have in stock.  Starting to think about the Pacific breeze that will cool our evenings, and the foggy mornings that will greet each new day as we settle in SoCal.

0414170703a_HDR“We’ll always have Santa Rosa,” we said to each other with a sincere smile.

We will always remember our three wonderful years of tranquility, living in the green beauty of northern California.

 

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Beautiful Sonoma, we cherish the memories we made there. Bodega Bay 013-COLLAGE

Inger Simonsen in Armstrong Redwood Forest; Carma & Oliver Simonsen in Bodega Bay and Mendocino Headlands; two feral kittens we rescued and gave to good homes; and rafting on the Russian River. 

 

 

Chaos, Grief & Gratitude

22 Oct

Week Two

My husband and I have had moments of laughter, in spite of the chaos and grief in the aftermath of the Santa Rosa firestorm.  We were chuckling yesterday about how crazy popular The Cars album was.  The subject came up because I mentioned that every time I go through something, a chorus from that album pops into my head and helps me get through the craziness.

That sums up week two after the fires.  It’s all mixed up.

Grief and gratitude mix about as well as vinegar and oil.  They have to be shaken pretty hard and well seasoned to make a palatable dressing.

Living indefinitely in a hotel with three cats is not an option.  Going home is not an option.  Going anywhere near home is not an option.  Meeting our insurance adjuster this week was not an option.  Getting information from the park management was not an option.  We hear on the news that after a disaster there is chaos and emotions run high.  Chaos is a word until it defines your life.  Now it’s real.  This is what chaos means.  It means the news says one thing, a local friend says another, the multiple authorities in charge say something else, the manager in charge of your community doesn’t answer the phone and doesn’t return voicemail (because they’re waiting for clear answers from whomever is in charge–and that keeps changing); it means the internet isn’t working, you can’t do research; your phone flakes out when you need it most–it’s one thing after another, road block after road block; inexplicable detour and traffic jams on the information highway.

FEMA sent me an email saying that we were eligible for transitional shelter assistance, and there was a link, forms to complete, and finally a map with hotels that take in displaced families and pets after a disaster.  I tried to make a reservation, only to learn that the list was outdated.  Several hotels were no longer part of the program, or for some reason were not participating at this time.  Finally, success!  We have landed in a home away from home until November 9th.  Now, what do we do for the rest of November?

One thing became crystal clear immediately after the fires… we can’t go back home.  There is no home to go back to, even though the structure is standing.  The community is gone.  Infrastructure, utilities, melted.  They can’t simply run an electrical line from the street to our mobile home.  Anyway, these are all logistics.  This week has been about the emotional aftermath, which is that odd mixture of grief and gratitude.

We both fell silent and lethargic periodically as depression hit hard.  For me, it’s that my retirement plan has been destroyed.  My perfect little retirement home, my affordable little retirement home–all that research, planning, saving–all the years of work that resulted in a successful outcome–my life after retirement was all set, and now, it’s all gone.  But stop and smell the roses!  YOU’RE ALIVE AND WELL!!!

Grief and gratitude, it’s all mixed up.  Tears of sadness and relief.  Moments of horror as memories of running for your life are triggered, followed by moments of amazement by the generosity and compassion of the people who have said, “We want to help your family!”  The sweetness of hotel staff makes living in a hotel with three cats a little less painful.  And the gratitude–always, the gratitude–keeps the floor under us.  Things could have been so much worse.  We came so close to losing everything.

Silver linings have been free breakfasts and all the little and big acts of kindness.

It is hard to sleep when you have to make big decisions, when every day that you don’t have a place to live after November 9th, the last day of hoteling from FEMA, means you’re paying $3,000/month or more in rent.  Urgency deprives you of sleep.  Something must be done!  But what?

We reached an agreement that Long Beach is a sound economic direction for us to go, because I have been paying for my son to rent a room near college in that area.  Rather than continue to pay rent for him, we will combine households.  He’ll live with us again, we’ll buy a condo near California State University at Long Beach.  That way, I can continue to help him finish college, as he pursues a degree in Industrial Design.  I can also help him learn to drive, so he can get to and from the temp jobs he’s been ubering to.  He can drive our dependable 1998 Toyota Camry.  It has over 207,000 miles on it, and it’s still a quiet and comfortable ride.

We have come to terms with the changes.  Instead of living in the natural beauty of sleepy Sonoma County, where we could drive 10 minutes and find serenity in the greenery… once again, we are in the concrete and asphalt jungle with traffic and noise.  From Los Angeles, it takes hours to drive to a wild place.  We will miss our Sunday afternoons in the Armstrong Redwood Forest.   There’s the grief.  And then the gratitude… aerial-calif-fire4-rd-ml-171012_4x3_992

Carma & Oliver

We have each other:)

 

After The Fires

15 Oct

It is 7:56am Sunday, October 15, 2017, as I begin the next phase of recovery after the fires in Santa Rosa nearly put an end to us.  There are so many friends and extended family members who want to know what happened, what we went through; I can’t tell this story over and over, it’s traumatic.  So I will tell it once, here, and share the link, and I will try to post weekly updates here, I’ll make it a minor goal to write a little each Sunday morning until we rise like the Phoenix.

My husband, Oliver, arrived home from work around 10:30pm last Sunday, October 8th.  He is a driver, part-time.  His primary goal is nearing the finish line, and that is to complete the final rendering of Cerebus Film.  It is an independent animation project he has been producing/writing/directing since before we met in 2009.  He works with a team of over 200 artists worldwide, all of them doing it in their spare time on their own computers, a labor of love by skilled and talented Cerebus fans.

It was too late to catch up on our favorite shows, so we got ready for bed.  We both remember saying it smelled like a camp fire.  “There’s a wildfire in Napa,” I’d seen some news about that.  I thought of my boss, Terri, who was visiting her friend in Napa last weekend, and hoped the fires there would not affect her.  (It burnt to the ground, we learned a few days ago.)

We fell asleep easily with our three cats nestled at our feet and next to us and on us, as they usually do.

I woke to the sound of voices outside, yelling, in a fog I think I heard the word “evacuate” and I reached over and my husband wasn’t there.  A moment later he was in the doorway, shining the light of his phone into the bedroom and saying in no uncertain terms, “Honey, we have to evacuate.  There’s a fire in the park.”  (Our mobile home park, Journey’s End, you may have heard about it in the news, it’s the one located next to Kaiser Hospital, which was evacuated in the middle of the night, like we were.)

It was dark, power was out, inside our home the air was breathable, it only smelled like danger, but when I opened the door to look outside, the air was ghastly.  My brain yelled, “Get out!”  It didn’t stop yelling at me to obey that command until we were well south of Santa Rosa on Hwy 101, the main artery between San Francisco and the North Bay cities.

“The kitties!” I shouted, “We have to get the kitties!”

“I can’t see them!  Where are they?”

“Where are the carriers?” I said aloud and I remembered, they were outside, somewhere in the shed.  The red glow of flames nearby said, “You can’t do that.  You can’t risk your lives breathing that smoke and take time to find the carriers and try to find the cats and try to push them into the carriers.”

“What about–should we let them out?”

“No!  It’s too smoky and chaotic, they’re more likely to get hurt out there.”

Split-second decisions had to be made.  We rushed out with the clothes we threw on and our phones and keys.  I managed to grab my purse and meds.  “Get out!  Get out!”

We had to get Oliver’s Mom, Inger, a few doors down.  He ran over there, I got the car and met him.  He was out in that toxic smoke banging on her home to wake her and get her moving.  Her neighbor, Louise, came outside in her PJs and robe and we took  her with us.  They piled into the car and I drove carefully through the dark, smoky park toward the only exit, where we saw police cars parked with lights on, we heard sirens, but there was no sign of a firetruck, and plumes of yellow and red flames and black smoke consumed at least two homes at once.

“Get out!”  I obeyed.  Hyper focused on driving at 3:38am, turned onto Bicentennial Way.  Many cars, but not a jam, many people evacuating.

The entire hillside above Journeys End, the Fountaingrove area, was consumed.  And there were no firetrucks there and none on the road.  The entire county was going up in flames.

The wind that night was noticeably worse than memory recalls ever hearing in California, and we are used to the winds that kick up every year–known as the Santa Ana winds.  “It sounds like it could blow off some siding or the awning,” I had said before going to bed.

Once we got onto the 101 South, I drove the speed limit and watched other cars carefully to avoid an accident, getting away from the smoke was all that mattered.  Everything else was blocked out.  Drive to safety, that was my job, like a robot.

“Louise, do you have your medication with you?” I asked because she was understandably in a mild state of shock and panic.  She is 84 years old and takes heart medication.

“No, I didn’t get my purse or anything!”

“Okay, okay, we’ll stop at a hospital and get your medications.”

“I can get them at Tuttles.  They have all my records!”

Tuttles, her usual pharmacy, was probably not going to be open in the morning.  It’s in Santa Rosa.  There was a car consumed by flames on the side of the road, police nearby, doing what they could to help mitigate the dangers and steer people away.

We approached the next little city, Rohnert Park, it was dark and smoky.  “I don’t want to stop here, I don’t want to have to evacuate again, okay?  I’m going to keep driving until we get out of this smoke!”  All agreed.

We passed Petaluma, also smoky.  We found local news on the radio and heard that Novato had fire alerts and Hwy 37 was closed.  So there was no point looking for a hotel in Novato either, but we saw a hospital open, and took Louise to the ER to get checked out and get an emergency supply of meds.  They weren’t allowed to give her pills to take with her, but they printed out her prescriptions, so we could get them from a pharmacy first thing in the morning.

The only hotel that was not swarmed with evacuees was in San Rafael and it was $264, so we decided we might as well go all the way to San Francisco.

By 5am we were safe and in a comfy room.  We turned on Kron4, the best local live news channel, and were horrified.  “The mobile home park next to Kaiser Hospital has been completely destroyed.”  The news crew was on top of the Kaiser parking garage, directly behind our homes.  Their cameras were aimed downward and all that was visible in the black of night and smoke, was twisted metal in a wall of flames.

“Oh my god!” Louise said over and over again, and burst into tears. “Oh my god!  I hope everyone got out–how will we know?  Oh my god!  We’ve lost everything?”  By “we” she meant everyone in the park.  It has been her home for 37 years.  She’s the sweetest little lady.  It broke (and breaks) my heart.  I hugged her and told her we’re going to get through this, “You’re not alone, we’re all going to help each other get through this!”

“I don’t have any insurance!  I can’t afford insurance!  I’ve lost everything!  Everything!  Oh, I wish I was dead!” she cried.  And we held each other and comforted each other.

Louise doesn’t have a wireless phone, and she couldn’t remember the phone number of her friend Lois or her niece Ann.  It was hours before she remembered a phone number, and it was for Ann’s husband’s phone.  So that was a relief, to get word to her family that she was okay.

Resigned to our losses, we found a Walgreens open in the morning and got the meds Louise needed.  We picked up some clothes at a Good Will Thrift Store, and went to IHOP for some comfort food.

I couldn’t bear the thought that my husband had lost 9 years of work.  The rendering computer was gone, the backup drives, gone, all of it gone.  How much of it might be in the cloud?  Not much.  Was the project dead?  I could not bear to ask him this.  Besides, Louise was already so fragile and distraught, we did not talk about our losses.  We focused on the positive.  We were safe and well.  We had each other.  Her family knew she was in good hands.

After breakfast, my husband said he had to go back and see it with his own eyes, he didn’t want to believe it.  Maybe it’s not “completely destroyed”.  Maybe the kitties got out, maybe the hard drives survived.  I did not want to go back.  I did not want to see it.  I believed what we saw and heard on the news.  I felt sick, and besides, we weren’t supposed to go back to the evacuated areas–the City and Police were telling everyone to stay away.  He had to, and his mother wouldn’t leave his side, and Louise wanted to go too, so they went.  I stayed in the hotel and cried.  After a while, I called my son and told him the horrible news.  He didn’t want to hear the details.  No sooner did I answer his question about the kitties, that they didn’t make it, he hung up and texted me that he did not want to talk about it.  I knew he had broken down in tears and was angry that I did not let them out.

It took hours for them to get back to Journeys End.  They had to park at the hospital and walk into the park.  It was smoldering, there were still plumes of smoke rising, but the police did not stop them.  It must have been amazing to see the homes on the south side of Sahara Street still standing, barely damaged, and the north side demolish, black and smoking.

I heard the news and wrote a quick email to my team at work, “Our home is still standing!”  Wow.  Talk about a silver lining!  “The kitties survived and they seem fine!”

That’s all I can write today.  It’s been a harrowing week, but we are all safe and well.  More good news to come, no doubt.  More silver linings.

Thank you to everyone for your support and caring and donations and prayers and for the peace and comfort you are giving us knowing we are not alone in this marathon.  We are deeply moved and uplifted by the support of my Red Hat manager and team, who set up this donation page to help!  https://www.gofundme.com/simonsenfamily

Thank you!!!  We’re all glad to be alive, even Louise–she’s been reunited with her family.

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Special thanks to my daughter, Chelsea, in Utah, who found this helpful post on Facebook… another silver lining…

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This article pretty much says it all: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/2-big-wildfires-prompt-evacuations-in-Napa-County-12262945.php#photo-14325373

That’s a lot of rope!

4 Oct

Visiting the Maritime Museum was a highlight of a recent trip to San Diego.  Among the many interesting things to see there is the first European vessel to reach America’s west coast, the San Salvador, in 1542.

Sixteenth century technology is an intriguing sight.  While some may walk through a room like this and give it a few seconds to sink in, the amount of rope and what it took to make it, and all the different kinds and thicknesses of rope–that captivated me–and I invite others to pause and marvel.

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What materials were gathered, by whom?  Where were these materials found, and when were they first discovered as something that could be woven into a durable tool?  Whose hands created all this rope?  Imagine the magnitude of the labor, for this one ship.  Were these particular ropes crafted with the aid of man-powered machines, such as pulleys and levers?  How did they know how thick to make them–what was the minimum requirement for the load each type of rope was designed to bear?  What were each of these ropes here for?  The crew knew.  Do we still know all of this stuff?  Is this old technology lost?

It is really quite remarkable and worthy of contemplation.  I leave you with images that stimulate imagination…

The Real American Horror Story is a Lack of Vision

10 Dec

Nothing speaks more clearly of the real American horror story than the lukewarm election of a spoiled brat. More than 90,000,000 registered voters amplified the disturbed sounds of silence, while 62,793,872 gambled on the fantasies of a liar, and 65,432,202 voted for someone with a clue.

 Supposedly this election was about the economy. Let’s clarify one certainty for former factory workers in the USA: jobs that have been replaced by automation will never come back. If you are among that demographic, you need to move on. You need to use all the resources available in your community to help you find a new occupation. Factory jobs are not coming back. Your jobs are gone. They did not go to Asia and South America, they went to robots. They went to robots because too many workers were injured by repetitive motion and dangerous occupations. You cannot compete with robots; they’re safer and more efficient.

Displaced workers in America are looking in the wrong places for help. What you need is a society and leadership that progresses toward Gene Roddenberry’s vision. Notice in Star Trek that there is no money at all. All basic needs are met. It’s a non issue.

“…the problem isn’t the problem; the problem is how you approach the problem.” -George Theakos, MMA Trainer

The fact is that the natural resources available to us on Earth can support billions of human beings quite comfortably. We have the technology to grow plenty of food for everyone. We have the means to provide clean water to everyone. We have the know-how and materials to supply everyone with electricity and plumbing. The only thing that has been missing is motive.

Motive is missing not merely because people cling to the comfort of familiar things. Motive is missing because too many people are in the dark.

America can be a shining city on a hill, but not by demagogue. The real American horror story can be rewritten. It can be a real thriller. It can have a satisfying ending that ignites anticipation of a great series. What we need is light.

Where does one find light? In higher education. Knowledge is power.

Instead of staring at your dead occupation and clinging to an old familiar way of providing for your family, invest your time in free education. It surrounds you. Learn how to use the internet. Go to a library. Call your local elected officials and demand occupational rehabilitation programs. Free tutorials exist everywhere online. Stop treating alternative occupations as if they are inaccessible when the truth is you have been unwilling to adapt. Stop being a zombie. Prove that you are alive and well–show some creativity, flexibility, and pride in being willing to own your thoughts and change your approach to solving your problems. As a dear friend of mine teaches, “More often than not, the problem isn’t the problem; the problem is how you approach the problem.”

Conclusion: the real American horror story is a lack of vision.

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Image courtesy of Mashable

 

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